For more than a year, Amit Singhal has been living off his mobile phone.
Google’s senior vice president of search has been taking the concept of “mobile-first” to heart by conducting almost all of his internet search activity on mobile devices.
In a recent article from SearchEngineLand, author Danny Sullivan interviews Singhal — who’s responsible for overseeing Google’s search products — about what it’s been like to shift to a fully mobile mentality.
Singhal says that, admittedly, he’ll still opt for a traditional browser when it comes time to type a long email. But Singhal says he doesn’t even have a laptop at home. No desktop, no tablet. Nothing but his two mobile phones — a Galaxy S6 Edge and an iPhone 6+.
So what drove Singhal — someone with access to myriad technologies — to depend solely on his mobile phone for search?
“When more people are searching on Google with mobile devices than desktop, [Singhal] felt it made sense to not just be talking about mobile first, but to actually be living it,” Sullivan writes.
Here’s a little bit about what Singhal discovered, and what that could mean for your law firm.
What Google’s Search VP’s Mobile-First Approach Can Reveal To Attorneys
On running out of battery life:
In Singhal’s interview with Sullivan, he says that he spends between six and seven hours a day in meetings, and doesn’t walk around with a laptop or tablet. “Which roughly means I’m forced to live on [mobile phones] for six to seven hours a day. And one hour is when I do those long emails.”
While some phone sales may be slowing lately, that doesn’t necessarily mean that people are using mobile phones less. A slow in mobile sales could simply indicate that mobile phones of today are heartier than their predecessors and can be easily updated with new software, making it easier for people to keep their phones for longer.
Singhal says that he carries around two mobile phones to avoid running out of battery life. Yet, most people may not do that. However, now that people are finding mobile phones as an increasingly convenient way to access the internet, and there’s been an increase in the creation and sales of portable battery chargers to keep mobile phones conveniently powered. Their popularity could signal that people don’t want to be tethered to their desktop computer or to a laptop. As Singhal demonstrates through his own experience, there may not be a reason that they have to be. And that’s one more reason why attorneys may want to consider a mobile-first approach to their website design. As phones become more convenient for browsing the web, potential clients will have little patience for law firm websites that aren’t meant for their mobile devices.
On the future of voice search:
As mobile phones become more convenient, so will using voice controls to do search. Singhal says that, over his experience in the last year, he’s been swiping and voice searching “far more” than using his hands to type in queries. He says that while he’s at work, he’s “usually surrounded by people in meetings” and therefore, doesn’t use the voice aspect of his phone quite as much. Yet, in his free time, Singhal says he often “talks” to his phone.
He’s not the only one. Singhal’s 15-year-old son has “nothing but personal time,” and Singhal says he has “rarely seen [my son] type on his mobile device. He does his homework — I’m not kidding — like this, with a pencil in one hand, his phone in the other hand.”
“I’ve seen him so many times, he’s like [speaks into his phone] ‘When was the Second World War?’ This has become his habit. We’ll be in a room, he’ll be in his room, and we’ll hear Google talk back all the time. I’m like, “Dude’s doing homework. Good, good.”
So, not only is Singhal regularly using the voice features of his phone to conduct searches, but we can see here that the next generation of Google users may not even think to type in a query. While voice search still has its flaws, this may be the year we see some major advances in the AI that may improve the current limited functionality of voice search. A highly functional voice search could make it easier than ever for clients to find the information they’re looking for — especially if AI has anything to do with it. Because we know that potential clients ask Google varied questions about their case or problem using a variety of terms, a highly functional voice search could prove extremely useful — especially because people often ask questions of Google in the same way they speak to other humans. Google’s RankBrain is busy learning about the way that humans naturally use speech so that it can provide better, more relevant answers for queries.
On the problems that still face mobile search:
When Sullivan asks Singhal what the three biggest challenges are for search in general, he says, “Mobile, mobile, mobile.”
“On the web, I used to hop from query to query much faster,” Singhal says. “Suppose I’m booking a trip to some place, and I run into a hotel review that I like. I cut and paste the hotel [info] by dragging [with a mouse to highlight the copy] and stick it somewhere. That is really painful [on mobile]. My train of thought is interrupted, because I kind of cringe at the thought of trying to select text on mobile. The copy-and-paste, that’s just not designed for that.”
Mobile phones are more convenient than ever before for accessing information on the web, but things aren’t perfect yet. Still, Google, among other companies, is working on ways to make the still-painful aspects of mobile less so. Singhal says he’s been pleasantly surprised by Chrome’s “Now On Tap” feature, which allows those using it to access valuable information without having to leave their current app. But there are drawbacks there, too: Singhal notes that he’s frustrated that it’s only available for Android and that it doesn’t work when he’s reading an app that doesn’t support the Now On Tap feature.
So, for now, the mobile experience for potential clients won’t be as futuristic as we’d like. However, Singhal says he’s proud of the progress Google has made with voice search, swipe typing and autocomplete — all meant to make search as easy as possible for Google users. And Google will surely be working toward making a more flawless mobile experience in 2016.
The possibility of better mobile search experiences — more useful and easier to use — is just around the corner. And that means that attorneys will want to be prepared by ensuring their law firm’s website is ready for how people will search in the future. Taking a mobile-first approach can save law firms the trouble of designing a less complicated — and sometimes less pleasing — version of their desktop site to accommodate mobile users. Law firms may want to consider thinking about progressive enhancement: the idea that puts mobile projects front and center. You can create a website that provides a great experience for mobile users first, and then scale the site forward for use in regular browsers.
By taking this approach, a better product is revealed all around. Aside from writing great content that answers important client questions, attorneys can impress their website visitors at the smallest scale, first. A web designer may have more stipulations on what they can or can’t do in the mobile-first approach, but knowing that from the start gives websites the ability to be better at every level in terms of their aesthetics and function in spite of those limitations. As designers work from mobile to desktop, they end up enhancing what’s already a great mobile site. That’s the beauty of “progressive enhancement” over an attempt at “graceful degradation,” in which one starts with a desktop site and may have to take out the bells and whistles to make the site function well on mobile devices.
Lawyers will also want to consider that, with what we know about the increase in mobile device use, there’s really no excuse for having a site that isn’t making use of responsive design. Sites that use responsive design create an optimal user experience for anyone visiting your law firm’s website from any device.
There are good reasons not to be an early adopter of a trend or product, but mobile devices are the way of the future for search. And so, attorneys will definitely want to think about their law firm’s presence on the web — not just from a desktop or laptop, but from tablets and smartphones, too.